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James Daniels A ‘Right Place, Right Time’ Signing, Lineman Says

Last month, the Pittsburgh Steelers gave former Chicago Bears lineman James Daniels a three-year, $26.5 million contract, the largest the team has ever given to a compensatory free agent in their history. Obviously, that has quite a lot to do with the rise in the salary cap, but the point remains that they committed significant resources to him.

A former second-round draft pick out of Iowa, Daniels is familiar with the colors he’ll be wearing in Pittsburgh, and is even expected to return to his old number (78). He figures to slot in at right guard, a position the Steelers hope he will make his own for a long time—well beyond his three-year contract.

Speaking with Mike Prisuta recently for the team’s website, Daniels agreed that his arrival in Pittsburgh was a matter of “right place, right time”, for both sides. “I don’t think a team would pay a player a lot of money if their best football was behind them. I’m just excited that I was given the opportunity and that the Steelers believe in me and my play and they know that I’m just gonna keep on improving and just do my best”.

Still just 24 years old, Daniels still has plenty of football left in front of him, having already started 48 out of 54 career games played. Although he missed the majority of the 2020 season, he has otherwise not missed a game in his four-year career, starting every game in which he’s played since the middle of his rookie season.

The Steelers believe that Daniels is an ascending player, and that they are bringing him in on his upswing, expecting him to get better and better as he establishes himself in Pittsburgh. That is what he intends to do himself.

He also talked about not just improving his game, but becoming a leader on the team as well—though first he wants to establish himself and earn the trust of the veterans and coaches, proving himself before he begins to take that mantle.

This is a rather unproven offensive line room he’s walking into. Chukwuma Okorafor, another fifth-year veteran, is the most experienced as a two-year starter, including one for which he wasn’t intended to start. Kevin Dotson has half a season of starting experience, missing most of last year due to injury.

Both Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green, who started 16 and 15 games, respectively, were rookies last year. Moore figures to remain in the starting lineup at left tackle, but Green could be demoted to a reserve role, with fellow free-agent addition Mason Cole playing center.

It is clear, I think, that the Steelers identified Daniels as a potential building block for the future, and fits the typical profile of what they look for when they do make significant additions from outside: a young, experienced, but ascending starter, preferably with leadership capabilities.

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